What is abortion?
When a person is pregnant, they have a new human growing inside of them. This new human is called a fetus. An abortion is when a person decides to end their pregnancy without giving birth. After an abortion, the person isn’t pregnant anymore. There are a couple ways that abortions happen. One is a medication abortion. This is where a pregnant person takes pills that are designed to end their pregnancy. Another is a surgical abortion. This is when a pregnant person has surgery to end their pregnancy.
People have lots of debates about abortion. Some people say that abortion should be illegal. Other people say that abortion should be legal.
ASAN believes that abortion should always be legal. We believe people have the right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. Bodily autonomy means people control what happens to their bodies. Bodily autonomy means people get to make their own decisions about what happens to their bodies. All people have the right to bodily autonomy.
Self-determination is the right to make choices about your own life. Self-determination means people get to choose what they do with their lives. All people have the right to self-determination.
Abortion is a bodily autonomy issue
Abortion is a bodily autonomy issue. Pregnant people have the right to make choices about their bodies and their pregnancies. (We say “pregnant people” instead of “women” to include all people who can get pregnant. Some transgender men and non-binary people can get pregnant. Also, not all women can get pregnant.) This is because all people have a right to decide what happens to their bodies. All people have a right to control what goes on inside their bodies.
When abortion is illegal, pregnant people can’t decide to get an abortion if they need one. That interferes with pregnant people’s bodily autonomy. It means that pregnant people are forced to carry their pregnancy to term and give birth, even if they don’t want to.
Court cases about abortion
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade was a court case decided in 1973. We sometimes call Roe v. Wade “Roe” for short. A woman who went by the fake name Jane Roe needed an abortion in Texas. But Texas law said that abortion was illegal. So Jane Roe brought a lawsuit to try and change the law so she could get an abortion. The case made its way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court made a decision in Roe v. Wade. They decided that it wasn’t okay for states to make abortion illegal all together. The Supreme Court said that states could make some laws about when abortion could be illegal. But the Supreme Court said that states had to let abortions be legal at least for the first few months of a person’s pregnancy.
A typical pregnancy is about 9 months long. The Supreme Court made rules about abortion based on how long someone had been pregnant. The Supreme Court said that abortion had to be legal during the first 3 months of pregnancy. The Supreme Court said that states can pass some laws about abortion in the second 3 months of pregnancy. But the laws can only be to protect the health of the pregnant person. The Supreme Court said that states can pass laws to make abortion illegal in most cases in the third 3 months of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
In 1992, the Supreme Court made a decision in another case. This case was called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. (We sometimes call Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey “Casey” for short.) Planned Parenthood is a group that provides abortions and other health care. They brought a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania had passed laws making it harder to get an abortion in that state. The lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court made a decision in the case. The Supreme Court decided that abortion would still be legal. But the Supreme Court also decided that there could be more laws against abortions. Before, the Supreme Court said laws about abortion needed to be based on how many months someone was pregnant. Now, the Supreme Court changed its mind. Now, the Supreme Court said the new system would be about fetal viability. Fetal viability is whether the fetus can survive outside of the pregnant person’s body. States could only pass laws making abortion illegal once the fetus could survive outside the pregant person’s body. This meant that states could pass laws making abortion illegal earlier in people’s pregnancies than before.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is another Supreme Court case. The Supreme Court decided it in 2022. We sometimes call Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization “Dobbs” for short.
In 2018, the state of Mississippi made a law saying pregnant people couldn’t get abortions if the fetus was more than 15 weeks old. This goes against what the Supreme Court said in Roe and in Casey. Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to change its mind. Mississippi wanted the Supreme Court to undo its decisions in Roe and Casey.
The Supreme Court agreed with Mississippi. The Supreme Court undid its decisions in Roe and Casey. The Supreme Court said that people do not have the right to an abortion. This means that states can make abortion illegal again. It means that in certain states, people can’t get abortions at all. This is very bad. Everyone should have the right to abortion. It shouldn’t matter where they live. For more information on the decision in Dobbs and what it means for people with disabilities, you can read:
Banning abortion hurts people with disabilities
Banning abortion hurts people with disabilities for several reasons. Banning abortion takes away some of people with disabilities’ bodily autonomy. Banning abortion means we can’t make certain choices about our own bodies.
Here are some reasons that banning abortion hurts people with disabilities. These reasons are adapted from “Our Bodies, Our Rights: What’s Going On at the Supreme Court?”
- Abortion bans deny the bodily autonomy of pregnant people, including pregnant people with disabilities. People have bodily autonomy all the time, including when they are pregnant. Bodily autonomy means people control their bodies. Nobody else should decide what a person does with their body. But abortion bans say that people don’t have bodily autonomy during pregnancy. That is not right.
- Some disabilities get worse while a person is pregnant. Some disabilities can get so bad that if the person doesn’t have an abortion, they could die. But not all people find out they are pregnant before it is too late to get an abortion. Some disabilities that get bad with pregnancy only get really bad at the end of pregnancy, when abortion is banned in a lot of states.
- A lot of places have really limited access to abortions. Some states ban abortion entirely. Some states only have one clinic left that performs abortions. But accessing abortion can be even harder for people with disabilities. We might not be able to travel easily to a clinic to get an abortion. Or, we might need a lot of time to consider all our choices and make the decision to have an abortion.
- Some people are on medications that would make it really bad if they got pregnant. Some of these medications can be harmful to a fetus. Other medications cause really bad side effects during pregnancy. Not everyone can safely stop taking their medications during pregnancy. Some people will die without their medications. Some people will get really sick without their medications.
- Some abortion bans have exceptions for abortions in certain cases. But those exceptions don’t cover many reasons people with disabilities might need abortions. For example, some bans have exceptions if the pregnant person’s life is in danger. Or, bans might have exceptions if continuing the pregnancy will hurt someone physically in a bad way that can’t be undone. But most bans don’t say anything about hurting someone mentally or emotionally. Some disabilities can get really bad during pregnancy. But they don’t put the pregnant person in danger of dying. And they don’t put the pregnant person in danger of getting physically hurt in a way that can’t be undone. So even when bans have exceptions, those exceptions are not good enough.
- When states ban abortion, it does not stop abortions from happening. It only means that people will have to travel farther to get abortions. Traveling to get an abortion costs a lot of money. People with disabilities are more likely to be poor than people without disabilities. It could take a person with disabilities a long time to save up for an abortion if they needed to travel to get one. They might not be able to afford to travel to get an abortion. Then, they might not be able to get an abortion at all.
- A ban on abortion might lead to more people with disabilities getting sterilized against our will. When someone is sterilized, they have surgery so that they can’t ever get pregnant. If we are under guardianship, our guardians might decide to sterilize us so we can’t ever risk getting pregnant. Our guardians might decide to do this because people with disabilities are more likely to be sexually assaulted. Sexually assaulted means being forced to have sex with someone. (And, there is no exception in the ban if we get pregnant from being sexually assaulted.) The right not to be sterilized is related to the right to abortion. Both have to do with bodily autonomy and making our own choices about our bodies.
- Being able to get an abortion is part of bodily autonomy. If the Supreme Court agrees with the abortion ban, it would hurt bodily autonomy. That might lead to people not being able to have bodily autonomy in other ways, like people with disabilities being forced to have abortions.
Banning abortion would also hurt people with disabilities who aren’t seeking abortions. Many people with disabilities are on medications that can hurt fetuses. Many people with disabilities are on medications that can cause them to lose the fetus. We need these medications to survive and live our best lives. But these medications can be dangerous during pregnancy.
For example: Methotrexate is a medication that some people take to help with joint pain or cancer. Methotrexate is also used in medication abortions. Because of this, some doctors are refusing to prescribe methotrexate anymore for anyone who could become pregnant. The doctors say this is because they don’t want to get in trouble if the methotrexate causes someone to lose their fetus. This affects more than just people who take methotrexate who want abortions, or even people who take methotrexate who are pregnant. It affects all people who take methotrexate who could get pregnant. That is a lot of people. It is not fair that doctors are refusing to prescribe methotrexate anymore. Refusing to prescribe methotrexate leaves a lot of people without the medication they need.
Banning abortion will hurt some groups more than others
Banning abortion will hurt some groups more than it will other groups. Not all states will ban abortion. People who live in states that do not ban abortion will not be as affected as people who live in states that do ban abortion. But within states that do ban abortion, some groups will be affected more than others.
When states ban abortion, they make it a crime. Some states that make abortion a crime only make it a crime to provide an abortion. This means that doctors who provide abortions can get in trouble with the law. Other states also make it a crime to receive an abortion. This means that people who get abortions in those states can also get in trouble with the law.
When states make it a crime to receive an abortion, they don’t apply the law equally. States are more likely to target Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color who get abortions. This is because the way states enforce laws is racist and unfair. (You can learn more about how states enforce laws in racist ways from our issue tracker page on the Criminal Legal System.)
Some states have already arrested pregnant people of color for having miscarriages. A miscarriage is when someone loses their pregnancy before they give birth. The states will often say the people did something to cause the miscarriage, like taking drugs, even when there is no evidence of that. This is wrong. It is wrong to arrest people for having a miscarriage.
Abortion should always be legal. People should never be arrested for having an abortion or a miscarriage. It is not right that states arrest people of color more for having abortions or miscarriages.
Laws about abortion
There are many different laws about abortion. Most of these laws are at the state level. That means each law only applies to one single state.
Federal laws apply to the entire United States. One important federal law about abortion is the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment says that people can’t use Medicaid to pay for an abortion. This unfairly impacts mainly poor people and people with disabilities, since that is who Medicaid is for. It also unfairly impacts people of color, since many people on Medicaid are people of color.
There are other bans of abortion coverage for government insurance. One other ban makes it so that Indigenous people who get insurance through the Indian Health Service can’t use that insurance to pay for an abortion. Another ban makes it so that people in federal prison can’t get abortions covered.
ASAN is against the Hyde Amendment and all bans around insurance coverage of abortion. We think the government should get rid of these kinds of bans. You can learn more about the Hyde Amendment at All* Above All’s fact sheet on it.
There are many different state laws about abortion. Some states have laws specifically protecting the right to abortion. Some states have laws that make it harder to get an abortion.
Here are some websites that track state laws and bills about abortion:
- Guttmacher Institute:
- KFF: State Policies Protecting or Restricting Legal Status of Abortion
TRAP laws are laws that make it hard for health care clinics that provide abortions to operate. TRAP is an acronym. It stands for “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” TRAP laws make rules that health care clinics that provide abortions have to follow. For example, the rules might say that the hallways in the clinic have to be a certain distance wide. Or, the rules might say that the clinic can’t be within a certain distance of a school. Other types of health care clinics don’t have to follow these rules. Only health care clinics that provide abortions have to follow these rules.
TRAP laws are designed to make it hard for health care clinics that provide abortions to operate. TRAP laws are designed to shut health care clinics that provide abortions down. TRAP laws are designed to make it harder for people to get abortions.
TRAP laws are not fair. They make it hard for health care clinics that provide abortions to operate. That makes it harder for people to get abortions. A lot of health care clinics that provide abortions have had to stop providing abortions because of TRAP laws. Some clinics have even had to shut down because of TRAP laws.
What can we do?
We can all work to make sure abortion is accessible! Here are some ideas:
- Talk about abortion and bodily autonomy with others. We talked about how abortion is really common and lots of different people have abortions. It’s important to talk about how abortion is normal. It’s important to talk about how everyone has the right to bodily autonomy. That way, more people can learn about these topics. Not everyone will agree with you. People have many different opinions about abortion. But some people will agree with you. They can help you advocate for abortion access.
- Look out for different ways you can advocate. Different groups have different ways you can help them with their advocacy. For example, ASAN might send out an Action Alert asking you to contact your elected officials.
- Advocate for laws in your state that make it easier to get an abortion. Right now, each state has different laws. Some states make it very easy to get an abortion. Some states make it very hard to get an abortion. Advocate for laws in your state that make it easier to get an abortion. You can learn more about your state’s laws here: https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/overview-abortion-laws. You can learn more about bills your state has introduced that have to do with abortion here: https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy.
Give money to abortion funds, if you can. Abortion funds are groups that give money to people who need abortions. Abortion funds run off of donations, meaning other people need to give money to them. Abortion funds are very important. They help people pay for abortions, traveling to get an abortion, and other related costs. You can find a national list of abortion funds here: https://abortionfunds.org/funds/.